Village Underground – June 27th

Cavernous, charmingly-industrial and curiously above-ground, the Village Underground still manages to generate the buzz of a secret spot despite being surely one of the hottest venues in the capital. The crowd – die-hards and try-hards, jazz types and the hip-hop faithful – rub shoulders under brick arches and improvised lighting. Bishop Nehru appears without fanfare and with a stage presence beyond the hollow posturing you might expect from his 19 years. The J Dilla-produced ‘Welcome’ lands hardest, with heads bobbing and arms raised front and centre against an atmosphere of forced cool from an indifferent contingent of the audience, locked at the bar, too far from Nehru’s infectious influence.

If tonight’s back-and-forth chatter is any indication, Toronto’s BadBadNotGood still can’t quite believe their luck. While they operate as a tight unit and convey a road-honed spirit, there is also a vibe that the four figures playing their guts out on stage can’t shake the feeling that their school project has gotten a bit out-of-hand. That anyone bothered to show up to watch them at all (the show is sold out) remains a humbling experience for them, and they respond with infectious bravado. As with their recorded output it is their collaborations and covers that draw the most attention. The covers tonight are hit and miss, starting strong with an unapologetically-suave rendition of ‘Don’t Know Why’ by Norah Jones. Their nod to Flying Lotus’ ‘Putty Boy Strut’ is well pitched, too; easy on the Putty with extra Strut. But a rendition of Adele’s ‘Hello’ is an unexciting choice that, at the original source, fails to provide BBNG with the kind of dynamism that their brash style feeds on. As for their own material, cuts from new album IV sound particularly sharp and fresh from the studio. The reckless tempo and searing synth keys of ‘Speaking Gently’ is like a Bizarro world Vangelis piece, while ‘Cashmere’ builds its way from sparse, twinkling instrumentation into a rich and winding trip.

It’s an accomplished, balanced performance. The intimate improvised thrills of a jazz club show are here in screaming sax solos and Alexander Sowinski’s helter-skelter drum tattoos, without tipping into indulgence, while the tumultuous groove of tracks like ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘CS60’ demonstrate the muscle and flex behind their flare.

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